Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Between friends

The front door blended well with the sepia sky and the 'more wooden than wood' tree with the shadowy leaves. The light chocolaty sun looked very tame.

" Rose, Thank God you are here.... I swear I would have gone crazy if I was all alone at home breaking my head over these matters ".

Rose took her eyes off the reflection in the puddle and smiled at her friend...a trifle embarrassed. She walked into the sparsely decorated apartment and immediately parked herself at her favourite spot on the ancient divan and nestled into the heap of pillows. A bottle of cold water from the fridge seemed to have materialized in her palms.

Rose liked coming over to visit her friend whom she and pretty much everyone else called Sweety. She felt so much more at home here than her own house two bus stops away near the railway station. She had been visiting Sweety everyday except Tuesdays and Sundays ever since she cared to remember. Unlike most friends, they didn’t spend all their time talking or doing something together or even talking about the past. Over the years they had become close enough to be comfortable in silence. Sometimes Rose would be reading a magazine while Sweety would be on the phone with someone or entertain some other friend. But at the end of the day, they felt contented and seemed to have enjoyed the other’s company.

Neither of them ever cared to remember the day Rose was accidentally knocked over by Sweety's Green Premier Padmini on the way back home from school, and the subsequent offer to be dropped home. They ignored the fact that they had nothing in common and had no reason to be friends. The two girls had rarely been with a third friend ever since. This was especially true of Rose who despite peer pressure had been living single. Sweety wasn't as lucky though. Having married her college sweetheart, she was all set for 'happily ever after' and enjoyed being Mrs. D'Souza. But it was not to be. After a tumultuous time that lasted just about 2 summers, they filed for divorce. The reason was infidelity. A year later Sweety was lucky enough to re-discover love. Things were better this time. The marriage lasted quite a few monsoons. The last shower of the season was witness to the divorce proceedings of Mr & Mrs. Menon.

Now almost 20 years later, the girls still had each other and this duet seemed set to last forever.

Rose had got a call from Sweety in the morning asking her to come over since she 'had to talk'. There were days when Rose was invited, on other days the invitation was implied.

Sweety walked towards Rose with a cup of hot coffee. Taking a quick sip, she asked her friend if she wanted a cup too. The offer met with no response.

"I am really worried about me and Joe. Of late I've been having my doubts if things would work out between us anymore." Sweety said, as if they were in the middle of a conversation.

"Why? I thought things were smooth. Why both of you looked very happy during Mary's wedding. I was even asked if you guys were considering getting married and all..." Rose did not make eye-contact and picked up a magazine nonchalantly.

"That was weeks ago Rose, things change you know...."

"What’s the problem this time? “ Rose wasn't a big fan of leading into a topic, and preferred to jump right into the middle of things and sort things out from there.

"Things have not been well..... I feel he just might be...you know...too old for me..."

"He is 4 years older. Wasn't Matthew almost 6 years older than you? You got married to him, surely you knew his age by then." Rose could read the article about birth control and also carry on a conversation, one of her unrecognised talents.

"Would you just try to understand what I am trying to say....? And put away the magazine. I don't mean 'older older', he doesn't seem to be able to see what I want. He can't give me what I want."

"I actually liked the ring he got you. That was a big rock. And I know you wanted it. "

"It’s just no use trying to talk to you. I thought at least you would understand." Sweety collapsed onto a chair and picked up a book herself.

"Okay Sweety. You take care. I have to go pay my electricity bill."

Rose knew her cue well. She took a couple of magazines which were lying on the coffee table and walked back home.

She hated it when the phone rang when she was unlocking her door. The callers seemed to posses a sixth sense and hung up just as she hurriedly picked it up. Rose made up her mind not to rush for the phone this time and let the wretched phone cry its heart out while she patiently found the right key from the ring and opened the door.
She sat down on the bamboo chair and picked up the phone with a slight hope that incessant rains foil the ESP of the caller.
“Why does it take you so long to reach home? I hope you didn’t wait for a bus as usual instead of taking a rickshaw.” Sweety’s voice blared through the reciever.
Rose just replied with an acknowledging ‘uh huh’
“I was trying to talk about …. You know…sex and all.” Murmured Sweety
“I know you were Sweety, I just wish you would say it. You are not a school girl anymore you know. ”.
“We have been together for almost a year now, and other than holding hands he hasn’t done much else.”
“He gave you a kiss when you cut your birthday cake.”
“Do you maintain a diary about us or something? Anyway that doesn’t count and it never happened again anyway. I’ve tried subtle hints, but that man is daft. He just doesn’t understand that not everyone is as old as he is…. And don’t start your lecture again, you know what I mean”
“So what do you want to do?” Rose fished the magazine from her bag and continued reading where she left off, nestling the phone comfortably on her left shoulder, knowing she just had to contribute the odd sentence every now and then.

“Why the other day, after Mary’s wedding Joe’s car wouldn’t start and Michael dropped us to my home. I invited Joe to stay back, but he just kissed me and said he would walk home.”

“So he did do it again...” said Rose. There was no impish smile on her though it sounded as if she did.

“What?, anyway..I really don’t know what to do Rose….If I keep this relationship going on…God knows what else he would force me to do…”

“Sweety…what happened? Rose sounded concerned. She was.

Between sobs and sniffles, some phrases were heard. It was left to Rose to stitch them together cohesively.

...” feelings too…”
…“understands me.”

“I thought Victor was already engaged…” Rose blurted in a reflex.

“Rose… can we keep on the topic please….If I can’t talk to you….”

“Sorry Sweety. So, don’t you think you need to call things off with Joe?” The moment Rose finished her sentence she realized that it wasn’t her job to give advice. She tried to brush it under the carpet.

“Do you want me to come over Sweety…? It would take me just about half an hour.”

“I can’t go on with that man. Never knew he would stoop so low… Such a creep”

“What did Victor do?” For once Rose had lost track of the conversation, her mind being
completely absorbed into gossip snippet on some movie starlet.

“Am talking about Joe”

“Oh!” Rose resumed her reading magazine and was now headed for the agony aunt column.

“I am losing faith in men. Everywhere you see there are these Joes, Patricks and ..”

“Prem?”. Rose recalled the rainy divorce.

“Don’t even remind me of that sick man. Did you know that he was seeing Vandana even before our divorce was finalized? Men are such perverts.”

“They are all the same. Bastards.” Rose knew the conversation would end sooner if there was no disagreement on her part.

“Not all of them Rose….Look at Victor for example. Such a nice man he is… You know I am so lucky to have him.”

“So you have made up …..a good choice. Yes Sweety, you are lucky” Rose was proud of the smooth recovery. “But it would be painful to cancel all the preparations for your engagement”

“…with that bastard.” Rose added for good effect. She hated sounding repetitive and wished she thought up of a better expletive.

“I know….and we had made such perfect arrangements. Even Emily is coming down from Australia. She was saving all her holidays for this.”

“Is it? Good old Emily. She has always come.”

“Yeah. Anyway listen, someone is at the door. Must be Victor. I’ll give you a call later.” Sweety hung up. But Rose continued reading with the phone on her shoulder for sometime before realizing it.

When the phone rang again, Rose realized that she had dozed off while reading the magazine. She hurriedly picked it up.

“Hellllu”. She hoped her dazed voice wasn’t as bad over the phone as it sounded.

“I am getting engaged. It’s on!” Sweety excited voice screamed.

“You patched up with…..” Rose brain swung active to prevent her from completing the sentence.
“Really? Wow! Did Victor propose to you just now?” Rose hoped her excitement came through to the other end. It wasn’t often that she was excited, and when she was she liked having witnesses.

“Something like that….I am so excited. I can’t believe this is all happening. I have to get the cards printed an all. Can you come over right now?”

The auto-rickshaw driver had insisted on an extra, something Rose had accepted earlier in all her excitement. But now she felt the pinch of it and made a mental note to return home in an ordinary bus.

The kaccha road had a thin layer of slippery mud on it, but the puddles had disappeared. The mud was splattering on the backside of Rose’s legs, which prompted her to make a mental note not to wear her hawaais till this frightful season was over. The green gate was a few steps away.
Surprisingly the front door was open, and Rose made her way in, after diligently wiping her slippers on the Welcome mat.

Sweety was slumped on the diwaan, and looked busy with samples of wedding invitations. Rose came up beside her and wondered if she had to give her friend a hug. Expressing herself was not something that came easily to Rose.

“So …the bride is busy with the wedding eh?”

“Yeah, I just wanted to select the right card you know…. But I don’t have many samples here” lamented Sweety . Rose thought to herself that her friend could just go through her previous wedding cards which probably would make a larger sample. Instead she offered her suggestion.

“Why don’t you first write down what you want, then we...you could select a card which would go with what you wrote?”

“For once you are making yourself useful. Hand me the paper will you dear…”

Sweety couldn’t stop smiling and Rose liked her friend like this.

As the wedding invitation was being written…the smile slowly weaned…and Sweety just slumped on the floor with a look of horror and disgust.

“What’s the matter Sweety? You look …”

“Rose…. do you remember my maiden name….”

For once the girls had to do jog down memory lane.